Chapter 1
A short guide to coach Social and Emotional Literacy (SEL)

Not so long ago, our curriculum was celebrated for being packed with the ‘hard skills’; reading, writing, mathematics, sciences, languages, accounting, digital technologies, data analysis and so on. Today a new set of skills, the ‘soft skills,’ have gained legitimacy under the banner of ‘Social and emotional capabilities’ and ‘Emotional intelligence’. These skills are at the very heart of being human. They determine how we feel, think and approach all facets of our life.

Building a socially and emotionally connected group is at the heart of this chapter. And, this is precisely what is needed if we are to triumph over our newest global health threat; loneliness. While loneliness is part of the human condition, it is shaping up to be a massive health challenge, especially for youth and elderly. Professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, Julianne Holt-Lunstad alerts us that loneliness significantly increases risk for sadness and depression, cardiovascular health, premature death, and a faster rate of cognitive decline and dementia. Feeling disconnected is equivalent to the dangers of smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, twice as toxic as obesity, as lethal as alcoholism and the negative effects are greater than those of air pollution or leading a totally sedentary life.

What we do know, is that the quality of our relationships with others plays a pivotal role in determining our physical and mental health. The chapter offers two pathways to explore ideas to develop social and emotional literacy. One offers a snapshot of purpose-built SEL programs, and the other develops a more informal approach, referred to as ‘Guided Social Interactions'.

Above all else, the chapter opens a space where conversations and activities combine to develop the big six social and emotional capabilities are legitimised; teamwork, empathy, negotiation, leadership, coaching, learning and persuasive skills. 'Guided Social Interactions' also have the capacity to refresh your group's concentration, engagement or enthusiasm when you sense it’s waning. They can be drawn on as ice breakers and team building exercises, to help build group cohesiveness. And, they are a perfect tool to repair the emotional fallout in class following an unpleasant incident between students.

Chapter 2
Quick start connections – building trusting relationships

Don’t you marvel at teachers who quickly build trusting relationships with young people? Watching them transform a classroom into a vibrant space offers a joyfulness second to none. The truth is, that the first few days of a new teaching appointment fills most teachers with a mix of trepidation and enthusiasm. A class of students and a teacher do not start as a cohesive group. No matter how we like to dress it up, anxiety radiates from this fresh mix of vulnerable human beings.

Quite miraculously, savvy teachers sense and soothe the anxious fusion of emotions. Before much time passes, they’ve disarmed apprehension and reassured students that they're safe, valued, belong and will have a voice. Then, within a few weeks the class crosses an invisible divide where they become a cohesive force. The teacher’s skill and heart has unified what were displaced spirits. Structures, understandings, expectations, systems, routines, procedures and practices have been built anew.

This chapter contains an assortment of ideas, activities and guided conversations to confidently build relationship with students, and between students themselves. These activities aim to enrich the atmosphere of care and trust you are intending to grow in your classrooms. Also examined, is how to repair damaged relationships, because upsets and fallings out are bound to happen in busy, overpopulated, school environments.

Chapter 3
Stimulating self-awareness and building identity

Since ancient times the idea of growing self-awareness has intrigued us. The Buddha once remarked, “Since everything is a reflection of our minds, everything can be changed by our minds.” Human beings are likely to be the only creatures on the planet with a metacognitive capacity; a core ability to think about our thinking. This is the unique capacity to reflect on past choices, to assess and discuss the value of making changes, to make changes, and to do things differently. The research suggests that when young people are given opportunities to examine their own thinking, the thinking of others and ponder on how they fit into the world with their individual differences, they gradually become more self-aware and build their own identity.

Yet, none of us are born with peak self-awareness, sparkling and ready to shine! It slowly emerges throughout childhood and is polished over time as we grow and experience the world. This chapter presents a collection of intriguing ideas, activities and conversations to support young people make sense of the world, their place in it, to recognise their unique character and shape into a unique identity that serves them comfortably and positively in the future.

Chapter 4
Ideas to set goals and champion perseverance

This chapter begins with an appealing approach to set goals using the S.M.A.R.T goal-setting system. It’s a tried and tested method to make changes and turn ideas into reality. The tactic is to break the goal into achievable bits, use a little novelty to maintain motivation and gather the support of others. There are many suggestions to be inspired by!

The second part of the chapter offers a variety of ideas and conversations to teach the astounding human capacity of perseverance. Perseverance is a wonderfully satisfying human trait because it’s fundamental to accomplishing what we want to in life. Research reveals the quality of one’s perseverance as the largest predictor of success. Grittier people are those who are less likely to feel deflated and give up when faced with a challenge. It turns out perseverance is not a gene we are born with but can be learned. We now have enough evidence to teach young people how to be more persistent. We know it will strengthen over time by keeping young people in rehearsal or in that “sweet spot”.

So, if you’ve already got an extraordinarily persistent student or child, this chapter will help you re-frame your thinking, so you’ll see their stubbornness as a strength to work with. And, if they’re not naturally persistent, here is a motivating collection of resources to build perseverance in young people of all ages.

Chapter 5
Nurturing emotional intelligence and resilience

How times have changed. Not long ago, information and practices to strengthen the emotional intelligence and resilience of young people barely existed. There is a growing expectation on every educator to build the best emotional health, early on, for every child in their care.

Today, there are greater numbers of children with more complex social, emotional and behavioural needs at younger ages than we’ve ever seen before. We never imagined that it would fall to us, teachers in classrooms, to continuously case management and provide astute and timely emotional input. When a student signals they want to talk to us, they are validating the safety within the relationship we’ve built together. A conversation does not mean we must have the answers. More often, just being there for them, so they can talk and we can listen makes a world of difference.

This chapter presents an array of practical conversations and continuing activities that enable young people to build emotional intelligence and resilient thinking. It showcases our greatest human assets; our emotions, and how to use relationship, empathy and self-regulation to raise the wellbeing of ourselves, and others. The challenge, however, is much more than presenting a few activities, tips or tricks to students. The development of these emotional assets is best promoted when we purposely maintain a social and emotional ‘sweet spot’ where these potentials are encouraged to shine!

Chapter 6
Developing organisational habits

Once upon a time in schools, teachers were not expected to teach and coach organisational skills. Today it is very different. Today, we are expected to strategically build platforms and structures where students can access levels of organisation that supports their proactivity, motivation and emotional steadiness. The capability of organisation is the very basis of a productive life.

None of us possess optimal organisational skills at birth. Progressively, we’ve gleaned the way, and the benefits gradually emerged. Slowly, we began to cultivate organisational habits because they augmented better performances, reduced anxiety and reduced chaos, confusion, procrastination and perfectionism.
There are, however, some whose organisational difficulties are linked to disorder, disability, delay, disadvantage, trauma, illness and more. We say their ‘Executive Functioning capacity’ is compromised. Executive Functioning supervises our higher-level mental processes; concentrating, self-regulating emotions, flexibly adapting our thinking, remaining inhibited in the right moments to get the best result, initiating and sustaining appropriate behaviour, monitoring one’s own performance and multi-tasking.

To be a positive force in the lives of young people, we must embrace approaches that help them to sort priorities, start, stick with task, receive motivating feedback along the way, and reach their destination on time and with dignity. For many, their internal organisational systems are delayed, but growth can be inspired by keeping essential organisational skills active and in practice. This chapter explores a deep set of ideas, targeted conversations and easy to apply interventions to strengthen organisational skills and habits.

Chapter 7
The ART of developing healthy communication patterns

As human beings, our words, voice tone, gestures, and facial expressions quickly prompt another to trust and enjoy us, or to challenge and provoke us. Our amazing capacity to communicate is a uniquely expressive aspect of being human and it is to our advantage to learn the skills to have the harder conversations; how to draw on language that does not personalise or hurt, but is peace-making, healing and has the intent to solve problems.
The spirit of this chapter is to teach young people the skills to communicate with poise, strength and respect, even when another doesn’t appear to deserve our kindest effort. This is approached through a series of directed activities and targetted role-plays.

The ART of maintaining truly assertive language patterns when heated moments, arise is a frontier that receives too little attention in homes, classrooms, schools and in the community. Yet, the set of skills to put relational communication patterns into action are specific and highly teachable.

If we’re committed to raising the quality of communication skills in young people, then we must be committed to upskilling our own capacities and modelling what we want from our children, at home and in schools, openly, every day - especially when the going gets tough.

Chapter 8
‘Mis’behaviour and humane ideas to influence positive change

This chapter presents a humanitarian approach to interpreting and working with the trickier emotions and behaviours expressed by the young people in our care. To do this, we use our ‘soft eyes’ to humanely reframe what their behaviour is communicating. We learn how to identify a young person’s innermost script so we can begin to hypothesise what’s driving their behaviour and what interventions and supports might help.

With the benefit of hindsight and science, we now know that many of our traditional responses to manage tricky behaviours in children were seriously flawed. Sadly, our interventions have often strengthened patterns of toxic stress and caused increased emotional and behavioural challenges. We have learnt that wellbeing, emotion, behaviour and learning cannot be separated because emotion rules reasoning.

We have also learnt that young people do not always choose their behaviour; that it is an innate response to stay safe, feel in control or self-protect. Then, it dawned us! Why not use the well-developed understandings to work effectively with young people who present with turbulent and traumatized behaviours, with ALL young people? This chapter offers a personal guide, primed for an immediate start, to do just this.

Chapter 9
The human brain; activities to celebrate its wiring for incredible growth

Stunning advances in technology and medicine, has taught us more about the human brain in the last few years than in the previous hundreds. We understand the brain is a captivating organ wired for challenge, learning, adaptation and growth. We’ve learned that as a new action is practiced, the action becomes embedded neurologically and grows into a skill. This is neuroplasticity in action. So, how might we enthuse those in our care to see that by giving something a go, we initiate growth, change, new skills and may even discover a hidden talent?

This chapter provides practical answers this very question.

Our starting point is to get students up close and personal with the brain. How it looks and feels, its size, shape, colour, texture and weight, how it engages in learning, to how it grows in response to challenge and then reorganises itself to refine improvements. Let's highlight that each of our brains are beautifully unique with their own personalised signature or rhythm. Yes, we really are ourselves!

A host of motivating activities that showcase the marvel of neuroplasticity are offered. They set students up to move from trying a new activity that feels different, odd, even overwhelming, to mastering it, and developing proficiency or talent. Let rejoice in the wonder of neuroplasticity with our young people!
As educators, what a privilege to engineer a variety of conversations and hands-on activities that inspire students to understand what their brain is capable of and how it naturally seeks to be the best it can.

Chapter 10
Compassion towards others begins with our self-care

This final chapter explores our self-care; our capacity to be kind to ourselves because failure to do this is damaging to the longevity of our job and to our health.

While we’re busy teaching students and parents to take care of themselves in every way that matters, many of us who work in schools do not do this. It seems the drive to practice self-care, isn’t innate and is too easily sapped by the extraordinary demands around us. Without consciously renewing our own spirit, our health wanes and the humanity good educators generate towards others can dissipate.

So, think about it?
* How do you take care of your physical health? 
* How do you ensure your best mental health and happiness? 
How do you nurture your spirituality? 
What failproof self-care structures have you organised in your life? 
What do you do to nourish yourself and recuperate your spirit? 
Have you formalised a personal ‘health care plan’? 

Schools and classrooms are tough places to work. They demand a lot from every educator. Teaching today is highly political, intricate, layered and emotionally fused. Consequently, it’s easy to lose the way and feel crushed by system, curriculum, leadership, students, parents and system demands. Yet, to be effective, everyone requires your poise, for you to stay well, turn up each day in the right, light frame of mind and connect with them.

This chapter asks a series of reflective questions to help educators gauge the depth of their emotional reserves. It challenges every educator to set up their own ‘health care plan’ to ensure wellbeing and proposes a series of suggestions to do just this. To continue to connect to, and enthuse students, every educator needs opportunities to find happiness and rejuvenation. There is no other way!